Could You Outrun A T. Rex? Try An Experiment To Check.

“How to Survive History” is a guide to surviving history’s most dangerous events. Some solutions are surprisingly attainable.

The following is an excerpt from How to Survive History: How to Outrun a Tyrannosaurus, Escape Pompeii, Get Off the Titanic, and Survive the Rest of History’s Deadliest Catastrophes, by Cody Cassidy.

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How to Survive History: How to Outrun a Tyrannosaurus, Escape Pompeii, Get Off the Titanic, and Survive the Rest of History's Deadliest Catastrophes


A few years ago I read a study written by a team of paleontologists that seemed to suggest I could outrun the most powerful predator in the history of our planet.

I found this surprising.

I consider myself a mediocre example of an athletically pedestrian species, with a top speed well below that of nearly every predator, never mind the deadliest. Yet the evidence that I could out sprint the formidable Tyrannosaurus rex appeared convincing. By measuring the size, musculature, balance, bone strength, and stride length of the great saurian, along with the application of an obscure formula originally developed to design boat hulls and ingeniously repurposed to determine running speeds, these paleontologists produced an estimation of the T. rex’s top speed that appeared surprisingly attainable.

Clearly, I had to experiment.

I stepped outside, paced off a reasonable distance, timed myself— and I just edged it out. Barely. And when I accounted for the added motivation provided by a T‑Rex’s breath on the back of my neck, I gave myself a reasonable chance. That confidence only grew when I dug further. I studied the evasion strategies employed by prey animals and found they allowed these athletically outclassed animals to escape predators far faster than themselves. If I applied these techniques to my own life-­and-­death chase, the numbers suggested I would survive an encounter with the greatest hunter in the history of our planet.

The surprising discovery that I could use the latest research to conceivably survive an afternoon in the Late Cretaceous era with a starved tyrannosaurus nipping at my heels inspired further questions. With the benefit of hindsight and modern science, could a time traveler visit Pompeii and survive the eruption of Mount Vesuvius? Could they buy a third-­class ticket on the Titanic and find their way off the sinking ship? Could they survive the Black Death? Could they escape the path of the most powerful tornado in his‑ tory, ride alongside Magellan on his horrifically dangerous circumnavigation, or haul up stones to build Khufu’s Great Pyramid?

In the process of discovering how a person could possibly survive these catastrophes and adventures, I found myself learning about these events in a far more granular way than a general history could ever provide. By focusing on hours, not eras, I felt the distance between the modern day and ancient history shrink to the proximity of a pursuing tyrannosaurus. Focusing on the individual’s experience as the Gothic hordes poured into Rome or as an earthquake rocked San Francisco’s peninsula during 1906, and then determining whether one should turn right or left, fight, hide, or flee, not only intensified and enlivened these bygone events, but delivered the kind of tangible information often neglected in vast reaching histories.

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Your Guide To Conquering History’s Greatest Catastrophes

The result is How to Survive History: a detailed, practical manual for surviving the greatest catastrophes and adventures in this planet’s history. It’s a how‑to for finding food, shelter, and warmth in the face of history’s most spectacular disasters. I’ve scoured every resource to come up with the likeliest way to survive each destination. I’ve read the diaries of the survivors, studied the accidents, and read the postmortems. I’ve looked at old maps or made my own when there weren’t any, and I’ve published them here where applicable. I’ve asked the world’s leading experts what they would do if they found themselves at the center of these great apocalypses, and report their answers, illuminating their disagreements and explaining their reasoning.

I’ve taken no speculative liberties save those necessary when history has obscured the precise details. There’s no way to know, for example, the timing and path for every ejected lava bomb during the Pompeii eruption, and therefore it’s possible the path I recommend would place you directly beneath a falling hunk of smoldering rock. I can only tell you the path where that is least likely to happen. In other words, survival is not guaranteed.

This guide is not a work of fiction or fantasy (save, of course, for the time-­traveling reader’s presence). It remains as faithful to actual events as the historical record allows. I have not fictionalized any of the events, nor have I conjured any dangers. I have not skirted any uncomfortable truths, nor conveniently ignored any threats.

I have, however, made a few assumptions. I have assumed that, like any good traveler, you’re familiar with the local language, customs, and dress, where applicable. Xenophobia runs deep in human history. In many of these locations, eras, and cultures, assimilation isn’t just useful or courteous. It’s lifesaving.

I have also assumed you’re up‑to‑date on your vaccinations. The whooping cough vaccine may seem like an annoying anachronism now, but in many times and places you’re going to have a bad time if you neglect it.

Finally, to avoid redundancy, I have skipped over some dangers inherent to nearly all eras past. For example, don’t drink the water, do assume your doctor has little idea what they’re doing, and when meeting a stranger, remember that historical rates of interpersonal violence approach war-­zone-­like levels.

In short, this book should be read as an entirely serious at‑ tempt to guide a visitor through our planet’s greatest catastrophes and adventures using the benefits of hindsight and modern science. It’s written for the modern time-­traveling reader who wants to witness the most dramatic, destructive, and dangerous events in history—and come back alive.

Good luck!

Excerpted from How to Survive History: How to Outrun a Tyrannosaurus, Escape Pompeii, Get Off the Titanic and Survive the Rest of History’s Deadliest Catastrophes by Cody Cassidy. Published by Penguin Books. Copyright © 2023. All rights reserved.

Meet the Writer

About Cody Cassidy

Cody Cassidy is the co-author of And Then You’re Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling Over Niagara (Penguin Books, 2017).

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